Suthep Thaugsuban, former secretary-general of the Democrat Party and now secretary-general of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, shared his views on the Kom Chad Luek talk show on Nation TV last night, two years after he led the Bangkok Shutdown that culminated in a military coup.
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE CURRENT SITUATION IN THE WAKE OF THE BANGKOK SHUTDOWN RALLY?
I am comfortable that the [previous] government, which hurt the country, and corrupt politicians who gained from people’s suffering are no longer in power. However, in order to reform the country, we need strong cooperation from all involved groups, and that’s not easy. We have different groups of people with different views.
DO YOU THINK THE NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR PEACE AND ORDER (NCPO) IS TAKING THE RIGHT STEPS TO REFORM THE COUNTRY?
The NCPO is mainly doing two things. Trying to restore the country, which has been damaged by severe corruption and hit by the global slowdown, and working on national reform. With many diverse viewpoints, it is not easy to complete this task in a short period of time. For instance, some ideas suggested by charter drafters were opposed by some groups.
The previous draft charter written by Borwornsak Uwanno’s team called for a national reform and reconciliation committee to be set up, which was viewed as a main reason why the draft was rejected by the National Reform Council. Do you think the current Constitution Drafting Commission led by Meechai Ruchupan will avoid such a mistake to ensure its draft will pass the national referendum?
I agree with the reform and reconciliation committee proposed by Borwornsak’s team. I think the panel would help us achieve reform, though democracy fanatics might find the committee unacceptable and view it as a problem.
THE PREVIOUSLY PROPOSED COMMITTEE WAS SEEN AS A MOVE TO CONTINUE THE NCPO’S POWER?
That was a misunderstanding. Many people are overly worried. People camped out on the streets [during the protests in 2014] because they wanted to see reforms. With no reform, these people will feel that their devotion was wasted. Meechai and his team must come up with a mechanism to ensure national reform succeeds.
If the next government decides not to implement any of the reforms, what will happen to our country? People want to see bureaucratic and political reforms, but there are still some who resist changes. It’s not easy to reform.
WHICH AREAS OF REFORM INTRODUCED BY THE NCPO DOES THE PDRC AGREE WITH?
First, its work on getting rid of corrupt officials. I think this is an outstanding achievement of the NCPO. Second, its work on national security and the monarchy. I think people are satisfied with their performance in these areas. Third, the way they have dealt with problems in times of crisis. People seem to feel they can rely on the NCPO. But there are also many issues that require more time to complete, such as healthcare and education. I think the NCPO is not likely to reform the police force. They may be worried that the force is too big with lots of personnel. Also, in this political situation, I don’t think the NCPO wants to have conflicts with the police.
THE ANTI-GOVERNMENT PROTESTS YOU LED ALLOWED THE MILITARY TO RULE THE COUNTRY. IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WOULD YOU DO THE SAME?
Certainly. It was about stopping an evil government that was destroying the country and our beloved institution. The rice-pledging scheme alone caused national losses of as much as Bt700 billion, and a lot of subsequent problems. The military could not cooperate with us [protesters], so they opted to seize government power. In fact, I didn’t like that option, but I am satisfied that an evil government lost its power and could no longer hurt the country and its people. There was no conspiracy, as alleged. If there were, I would now be part of this government.
WOULD YOU DO THE SAME AGAIN EVEN THOUGH THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SAYS THE COUP IS BAD FOR THAILAND’S IMAGE?
I would. I think foreign countries have no right to interfere with our country’s internal affairs. I am dissatisfied with some foreign diplomats. When I met them, I told them frankly that it was not their business. We have never interfered with their countries. We have to tell them clearly or they will keep messing with us too much.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE DEMOCRAT PARTY? YOU QUIT THE PARTY BUT ARE STILL VIEWED AS INFLUENTIAL AMONG DEMOCRAT FIGURES.
I no longer have a connection with the party. When I led the protest, I quit the party and announced I would never return. I have friends in the party, many of them like brothers and sisters, but we have gone our separate ways. I certainly have no influence on anyone in the party.
OBSERVERS SAY THE DEMOCRATS WILL FIND IT DIFFICULT TO WIN AN ELECTION, WHILE PHEU THAI IS CONFIDENT OF WINNING. WILL YOU ACCEPT IT IF PHEU THAI WINS AGAIN?
I will accept any party that wins. But if Pheu Thai still lets [former prime minister] Thaksin Shinawatra command it, I can’t accept that. I don’t think the public will accept it either. We saw the damage that was done to the country. If Pheu Thai’s policies are really meant for the people’s benefit and not for some party figure’s own interests, then it’s acceptable. The Democrat Party also has to convince people that they can lead the country to progress. I have already suggested they reform the party and their members’ attitudes.
DID YOUR TIME AS A MONK CHANGE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THAKSIN AND YINGLUCK SHINAWATRA?
Personally, I have no bad feelings against them. I could talk with them in person and sit down to have dinner with them. I have no personal grudges. But if Thaksin still tries to command Thailand, I will continue fighting. And if Yingluck comes back for more irregularity, I will lead protests against her again.